My mom just sent me a copy of the book China Homecoming by Jean Fritz. This book is a sequel to another book Fritz wrote, called Homesick. I love her writing. I just dove into the first chapter of China Homecoming, and already it is speaking to me.
I can relate to so very much of what she says. I was born in Oaxaca, and then moved to Eastern Europe where I lived until I was almost eight years old. My grandma wrote me letters, too, and told me about picking apples and baking cinnamon rolls. I too, didn’t feel exactly American even though I knew I was. When I was a little girl, I struggled with the culture shock of coming back to this country.
And even now, like Jean Fritz writes in this open chapter, I don’t know what to say when people ask me where I am from. This first chapter is beautiful. It says so much of what my heart feels, and has for years. Sharing an excerpt now is sharing a little part of me — a part I hope to share more of on this blog.
“When I was a young child, my parents were always talking about ‘home’. They meant America, of course…I could only daydream and wait until the years to go by until we would return. In the meantime, my grandmother wrote me letters. She said she wished I was there to go blackberry picking with her. Or she told me she was baking an apple pie and why wasn’t I around to peel apples? I had never picked a blackberry before. I had never peeled an apple. Somehow, living on the opposite side of the world as I did, I didn’t feel like a real American.
“…It took me a long time to feel like a real American. Even after we came back to America when I was thirteen and I began picking berries and peeling apples and doing all sorts of American things, I didn’t feel as American as I thought I should. Not as American, I imagined, as my cousin Charlotte must feel….Even in her dreams she would have to stay put in Washington, PA, because that’s where she’d always been.
“But not me. As soon as I was asleep, off I’d rush to the Yangtse River…I just looked at it, letting the orange-brown foreverness of it flow past, and it seemed, flow through me. As hard I was trying to grow up American, I could not let China go.
“…It was on a Saturday morning, I wrote it, sitting up in bed, still in my pajamas. I was excited because almost as soon as I started I felt that I was not writing a poem at all; it was writing me. When I finished, I took it downstairs to read to my mother, who was peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink.
“I began my poem and ended it with the same line: ‘It will not be the same when I go back.’ Somewhere between the two lines I began to cry.
“…I was 26 and…married…pinning the clothes to the line, I would look at the Golden Gate, that same Golden gate that had been my first view of America when we returned from China so many years ago. I could still feel the wonder of the hills, the American hills slipping into the bay, but when I looked beyond at the ocean itself, I could not follow it all the way to China…Would I ever be able to find China again?
“…In a way, my childhood seemed like closed book now…
“I knew now I had to go back to China, not only to see, what, if anything, was left…but to get to know the city as it is now. And to find out if at last I could call it my hometown. I never had. When people asked where my hometown was, I always hedged.
“‘Well, I was born in China,’ I’d say. After all, I’d been a foreigner. How could I call a place my hometown if the people who lived there considered me an outsider? An intruder.
“It was almost as if I didn’t have a beginning.” -Jean Fritz